What are Labor Pains?

J. Beam

Labor pains in pregnancy are the pains associated with the labor process and contractions that occur to prepare the body for giving birth. The contractions are what cause the pains, and they prepare the uterus for delivery by causing the cervix to thin and soften before birth and then later to dilate, creating the natural exit route for the fetus. All this preparation is hard work, often painful; hence the name.

A pregnant woman.
A pregnant woman.

True labor pains are a sign that childbirth is beginning and are the result of contractions occurring at regular intervals, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute or more. They generally grow stronger as time elapses and delivery draws near. Pains from contractions generally begin in the lower back and move across the front of the body to the stomach.

Labor pains are signs that the body is preparing for birth.
Labor pains are signs that the body is preparing for birth.

During childbirth, a woman may choose to relieve labor pains with drugs that block the pain or may choose to practice techniques that help manage the pain. The choice is a personal one that can only be made by the mother based on what she is experiencing. In some cases, pains are present, but the labor process does not evolve as it should. In this case, drugs may be given to assist with the labor process, or a cesarean section may be necessary.

Labor pains are cause by contractions.
Labor pains are cause by contractions.

False labor pains, or Braxton-Hicks contractions, may occur as delivery gets nearer, but do not signify that the birth process is beginning. These are marked by irregular contractions that come and go sporadically, ease or stop by changing position or walking, are often felt only in the lower abdomen or groin area, and are accompanied by no release of amniotic fluid. These may seem real, but usually pass with no event. If your water breaks or you begin bleeding or experience contractions at regular intervals, you should call your doctor or midwife or go to the hospital.

A midwife can usually determine if contractions are Braxton Hicks contractions, preterm labor or true labor pains.
A midwife can usually determine if contractions are Braxton Hicks contractions, preterm labor or true labor pains.

Pre-term labor pains, or signs of labor that occur before 37 weeks of pregnancy, should be brought to the attention of your obstetrician. Pre-term labor that results in premature delivery increases the chance that your baby will need special medical attention at birth. Women who experience painful or regular contractions prior to 37 weeks should see a physician.

While labor and delivery can be painful, it is a natural, though challenging, process that most women meet with little difficulty. You can best prepare yourself for labor and delivery by taking childbirth classes and visiting the hospital or facility where you will give birth.

Patients who go into labor at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy are at risk of premature delivery.
Patients who go into labor at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy are at risk of premature delivery.

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Discussion Comments


Cupcake15- With my second pregnancy, I was only given a minor dose of epidural and it wore off when I was in active labor, which was at 10 centimeters dilation.

My son’s heart rate was lower than normal so I could not receive as much labor pain relief as I would have liked. It was very painful, but after the delivery I felt better than I did with my first delivery.

I also recovered much faster. My second labor was much shorter which often happens in subsequent pregnancies. Also women that exercise while pregnant often have better deliveries. I walked three miles a day on my treadmill up to the very day of my delivery.

My second labor lasted two and a half hours as opposed to eleven hours of labor from my first delivery. Also, the early labor pains were worse the first time, than the second.


Latte31- Pain management during labor was very important for me. I had an epidural during my first pregnancy. The needle is injected into the lower spine in order to numb the lower extremities.

I did not feel anything leading to my delivery, nor did I feel anything afterward. The only problem that I experienced was that since I had no sensation, I had difficulty in the pushing phase.

That is the only difficulty that I experienced. Also, you can receive sleep medication when you are at the hospital so that you can sleep because it is difficult to sleep when you have labor pains.


Signs of labor pains often occur in the lower back. The pain feels like a sharp throbbing pain that last thirty seconds to a minute or so. The back labor pains occur with more frequency and intensity as labor approaches.

It is very difficult to sleep as the pain is quite sharp. One of the best ways to relieve these signs of labor pains is to take a warm bath and then walk around while taking deep breaths.

It is important to control your breathing which signals to the brain to minimize pain by releasing endorphins. Also, visualizing holding your child in your arms really helps to keep your mind focused on the child and not the pain, which is really intense at times.

Some women receive labor pain relief from sitting on a birthing ball. The birthing ball is similar to the balls that women use to do abdominal exercises. The pregnant woman uses this ball to ease the uterine contractions which is one of the labor pains symptoms.

By sitting on the ball and slightly rocking back and forth, it can help when you are having labor pains.

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